Washington: A U.S. Navy destroyer carried out a "freedom of navigation operation" on Thursday, coming within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, U.S. officials told Reuters.
- China has territorial disputes with its neighbors over the South China Se
- USS John travelled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands
- China said the operation had violated international and Chinese law
The operation came as President Donald Trump's administration seeks Chinese cooperation in dealing with North Korea's missile and nuclear programs and could complicate efforts to secure a common stance.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the USS John S. McCain traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals. China has territorial disputes with its neighbors over the area.
It was the third "freedom of navigation operation" or "fonop" conducted during Trump's presidency.
The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, and comes as Trump is seeking China's cooperation to rein in North Korea.
China's foreign ministry said the operation had violated international and Chinese law and seriously harmed Beijing's sovereignty and security.
"China is very displeased with this and will bring up the issue with the U.S. side," the ministry said in a statement.
The United States has criticized China's construction of islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and is concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.
The U.S. military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and they are separate from political considerations.
The Trump administration has vowed to conduct more robust South China Sea operations.
In July, a U.S. warship sailed near a disputed island in the South China Sea claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam.
Experts and officials have criticized former President Barack Obama for potentially reinforcing China's claims by sticking to innocent passage, in which a warship effectively recognized a territorial sea by crossing it speedily without stopping.
China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The Pentagon declined to provide any details but said that all operations are conducted in accordance with international law.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen recently after North Korea carried out two nuclear tests last year and two ICBM tests last month, prompting a strong round of U.N. sanctions. That angered Pyongyang which has threatened to teach the United States a "severe lesson".
Trump responded by warning North Korea it would face "fire and fury" if it further threatened the United States.
© Thomson Reuters 2017
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